Under the decision of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced Thursday, Algerian authorities began a ban on niqab in public workplaces across the country. And, as expected, this decision was denounced by the Imams’ Mosques Union, although a few number of women wear the niqab in Algeria and often work at municipal headquarters in rural areas.
In a letter sent to ministers and regional governors on Thursday, Ouyahia said the need for identification had prompted the move.
Civil servants, he wrote, needed to “observe the rules and requirements of security and communication within their department, which impose their systematic and permanent physical identification”.
“It should be recalled that, given their public service missions, public officials and public servants are subject to specific legal and statutory obligations,” the Prime Minister said in a circular.
Mayor of Khemis Miliana, 120 km west of the capital, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the ban on the niqab was for security reasons as reported by the government, and it “does not represent a restriction on freedoms." He pointed out that there is no niqab-wearing woman working in the Khemis Miliana municipality.
Islamist MP Masoud Amrawi expressed his great surprise at the issuance of such instructions. He considered the new law "a declared war on Islam”.
Amrawi noted that similar instructions have been issued prohibiting girls from wearing headscarves during official exams on the grounds that it is a “means for cheating”.
Jalul Hajimi, head of the Imams' union, said that the government is requested to stop restricting personal freedoms because this could get the society into a cycle of strife and ostracism. He also called on the government to ban indecent dressing at public institutions for what they cause of “disintegration of the values of Algerian society”.
MP Adda Fellahi declared his support for the government's decision in a Facebook post. Fellahi, who is also adviser to the former Minister of Religious Affairs, said that niqab is a social and jurisprudence issue and has nothing to do with decency and chastity.
The niqab, according to Fellahi, "is not obligatory, nor is it a legitimate duty."
An Islamic activist responded to Fellahi post by saying that "the niqab in private daily life is a personal choice... a dress option like other clothes that one chooses voluntarily.”
However, he added, in the fields of work, such as teaching, medicine, and public and private workplace, it is best “in my personal, religious, social, moral and human conviction to remove it to identify the person and perform the duty to the fullest extent."